We tell ourselves that it’s okay;
that it was just a dream.
But we know,
feels more eternal,
than even one moment awake.
We tell ourselves that it’s okay;
that it was just a dream.
But we know,
feels more eternal,
than even one moment awake.
Two matching military uniforms, with men inside them, sit at opposite sides of the table.
They are playing cards—the men, not the uniforms—one has the better hand, but the other knows it because the Jack of Diamonds has a torn corner.
The room is small: two chairs, a table and a single bed against the wall. An ancient analogue TV sits on a shelf. A globe on a chain hangs from wooden beams that are holding up a corrugated tin roof. A frosty window looks out at a barren, mountainous landscape of grey-brown rocks and dead shrubs; you cannot see the sky through the window.
The card game is done and the loser swears. He pushes his chair back and looks out the window.
The knob on the old television set makes a popping sound as it switches itself on. The men look at each other. They speak to each other in grunts.
The picture on the television set is grainy, the shape of a person can barely be distinguished—a speckled silhouette against a backdrop of static. One of the men adjusts the top dial, then the second from the top and the image becomes clearer.
On the convex screen a woman is sitting behind a desk. She is smiling broadly. Behind her is a map criss-crossed by several lines. Red dots pulse between the lines. The television switches off.
A rumble starts deep in the earth. It rises up from the floor and the window begins to rattle. The cards on the table jiggle about and one of the chairs falls over. Dust trickles down from the wooden beams.
Empty tea cups knock together. A glass jug tumbles from a shelf but one of the men catches it and places it gently back where it belongs. There is another noise now—a high pitched whine. The second chair falls over.
One of the men goes to the door and opens it. He looks outside and then steps outside. He shouts something at the other man.
The second man follows. Gravel crunches underfoot as he steps outside.
Storm clouds linger above the mountains. Green lights flash within them.
Everything is shaking. And then: everything is still.
In the distance there is a sound like running water. The tin roof of the shed ticks as it settles back into position. The wooden beams creak.
The two men go back inside and deal another hand of cards.
We are told to reach for the stars,
When they seem so far away.
But if we try our hardest,
We might still fly to them one day.
Black boxes slide across groves in the floor. Through pipes. Across conveyor belts. Through holes in the walls that match their exact size. The boxes move without the aid of human hands. Preparing for some future that we cannot know.
Coughing and spluttering, Jeremy opens his mouth to ask if Sarra’s okay before realising that she’s laughing at him. Then he sees the lake monster.
A head the size of a small car regards them from a few feet away. Enormous eyes blink wetly as the head shifts on its slender neck.
“Nessie!” calls Sarra, and rises to her feet. The creature moves forward, her enormous head swaying. Jeremy scrambles wildly backwards across the wooden deck, muttering under his breath.
The light has gone from Sarra’s hand now, and obviously the heat as well, because she extends her arm out across the water and places her palm against the smooth skin of Nessie’s snout. The creature makes a sound like nothing Jeremy has ever heard, a sort of warbling, watery, purring noise.
“Don’t be scared,” says Sarra. “She won’t hurt you.”
“Of all the names…” Jeremy starts, but Sarra cuts him off immediately.
“Don’t give me that! Tell me, Sir, what would you call a giant lake monster?”
Nessie seems as interested by the question as Sarra is. The plesiosaur stretches her head high into the air and looks sideways at Jeremy.
“Well?” Sarra crosses her arms over her chest. She’s still wearing one glove, the other is tucked into the band of her pants.
“I don’t know,” says Jeremy. “I… Bigfoot?”
“Bigfoot’s not a name,” says Sarra, rolling her eyes. “It’s an Interworldly Species Classification!”
Jeremy has to laugh at that. It begins as a titter and it begins as a titter that grows to a chuckle that grows to a guffaw. Soon Sarra joins him and they both stand there on the pier, soaked from head to toe while the lake monster named Nessie sways her head back
and forth and thinks, to herself, that this can only end badly.
“Don’t you see?” says Sarra when their laughter dies down. “It’s all so wonderful!”
“It’s terrible,” says Jeremy and although he believes what he says, he can’t hide the hint of a smile from appearing on his face.
“Amazing,” says Sarra, grinning at him.
Nessie points her nose into the air and bellows ingoodbye, before slipping beneath the dark waves of Lake Freyja. And Jeremy suddenly knows that this is where he
needs to be. Here, with Sarra. Here at Westcrest.
“Brilliant,” he repeats after her. Taking her ungloved hand between both of his, he squeezes it gently. For a moment she intends to snatch it away, but then she notices a strange tingling sensation where their skin is touching.
Energy floods through her, the same energy that Chatravati has taught her to channel through the palms of her hands, and yet she also senses that this is a somehow different type of energy—an older energy.
Jeremy is brimming with it.
“No!” Sarra cries as she feels the heat rising in her. She knows that she has to control it, has to suppress it. And with that small act of rejection she feels the energy suddenly withdraw from her and Jeremy along with it. “I’m sorry,” she begins. “I didn’t mean…”
Jeremy ignores her. “Doesn’t it drive you mad?” He asks, turning to gaze out at the city across the water. “Don’t you find it frustrating that you do all of this, this… saving the world or whatever it is that you do here, and none of them even know?”
“They know,” says Sarra, her voice little more than a whisper. “Somewhere, deep down, they are all afraid of the things in the dark, the unseen things, the whispers and the shadows. We are their hope, Jeremy, and our own hope as well. Because we have to believe that things can be better. That we can make them better.”
Her eyes wet with tears, Sarra holds out her hand to him again. Without looking at her, he takes it. “Stay,” she whispers. “Help me us make things better.”
And as they embrace on that cold winter night on an invisible island at the centre of Lake Freyja, Sarra closes her eyes and lets the torrent of Jeremy’s energy course through her.
Westcrest – Season 1 is now available on Amazon.
The strange anachronistic writings of Mischa von Castellan were initially discovered at her family’s estate in late-2002. The writings were discovered behind a loose brick in the upper bedroom believed to belong to Mistress von Castellan herself, before her death in 1871.
The manuscripts were inherited by one Anne-Marie Tennant, von Castellan’s own great-great-great-great Grandniece. Thankfully, Miss Tennant possessed romantic inclinations and quickly became enamoured with the texts.
Thus desiring that her distant relative’s writings be shared with the wider world, Anne-Marie donated the complete collection to the Crystalline Archive in May 2009.
As you are, no-doubt, aware, the Crystalline Archive is a private museum operating in an unfindable cul-de-sac in Not-London, or Caladon, upon that parallel earth wherein all (most) magic is hidden.
I now have the great privilege, as a member of that enigmatic Illuminatus named “Dept. 38” to share some of these writings with the public.
Although Mistress von Castellan adopted an unconventional, if not aberrant, style there are wisdoms and truths amongst her words that are as relevant today as they were in her own parallel 19th Century. Of particular interest to the Department are the anachronisms located throughout her work, seeming to indicate that Mischa von Castellan was, in fact, some sort of vessel for retro-causal transmission.
Now, please enjoy this fragment, discovered on the first page of Mischa von Castellan’s unpublished masterpiece, “A Peculiar Whimsy”.
I ask myself: “What is the cost?”
If I get back in my box,
And all I love is lost,
Amidst some burning holocaust.
The rituals take shape,
In the sky beyond my eye,
As I see the things unseen,
Begin to rise,
BEGIN TO RISE.
The lamb walks to the slaughter,
Circled silently by sharks.
The scientist sits quietly,
Seeking answers from the quarks.
The madman chuckles wearily,
Amongst dismembered human parts.
While the poet waxes lyrical,
Attempting to make “art”.
But what IS art?
Except some whimsy of a convoluted brain,
An attempt to perform alchemy,
By transforming human pain.
(Here’s the transformation,
I know that spell, I have it written down…)
Pain MUST become rain,
And by rain I mean your tears,
If you let them trickle down your face,
They’ll release you from your fears.
And from that barrenness of suffering,
Where nothing wished to grow,
You’ll feel that soil yearning,
For whichever seeds you wish to sow.
A sacred blood-red orange in the sky,
Begins to rise,
BEGIN TO RISE.
But the light is far too brilliant yet,
So you must avert your eyes.
One day you will look upon it,
And bathe amidst its light,
But you mustn’t be some Icarus,
Attempting premature flight.
Take what you need from God’s great jungle,
Do what you must and heed the cost,
“Get back in your box”.
– Mischa von Castellan, “A Peculiar Whimsy”
Beyond the sea is the ice and beyond the ice is the mountains. And what’s beyond the mountains… nobody knows.
Beyond the mountains lies the Desolate Space. The Great Meandering. The Eternal Wasteland.
No plants grow here. The rivers run red with coppery, bitter water that writhes with parasites. The sky is alight with radiant, nuclear fire that melts the horizon away into an indistinct haze.
There are many strange things here, things that you have never imagined.
Don’t worry. I’ll make sense of them where I can. I remember what it is like to be a man. I’ll try to explain, but then, I might get muddled up from time to time. It’s a side effect of straying so close to the Fade.
That’s what they call it–that indistinct merging. The truth is, there is no horizon. There is no end. Just a gradual discombobulative entropy that breaks the mind down into tiny pieces and scatters them, if you get too close.
But I’m not too close. Not yet.
I have recently been fortunate enough to contribute to Story City: a project that uses a mobile app to combine text, narration, music and images to immerse readers in an interactive choose-your-own-adventure* style story that’s set in the real world.
Wanting to be involved with the project was a no-brainer from the moment I first heard about it. The bookshelf above my head is packed full of game books I’ve been collecting since I was a kid. I always loved these types of books because of their ability to grant that elusive wish—to make the reader an active participant in the story.
Story City is in an entirely different league to those old-fashioned game books. The app doesn’t only tell a story, but adds music, pictures and narration to create an experience; an interactive narrative in which the reader is at the centre.
The story that I have written for Story City is a science-fiction espionage tale entitled, “The Firm”. My story has been woven into the very fabric of reality around some of my childhood haunts. It will linger there, invisibly, until you download the app. Not merely a story, but a part of the city.
It is pioneering projects like Story City that are working to define the digital reality that is rapidly appearing all around us. A new sort of real estate has been created: an extra dimension in which we are limited only by our imaginations. Playgrounds can become satellite control-centres and historical buildings clandestine meeting spots. Tour guides can speak, digitally, into your headphones and explain to you the local history of a place as you explore it.
It’s mind-bending if you think about it. It’s fantastic. And, perhaps most exciting thing of all is the fact that we’ve only just spotted the tip of a very large iceberg.
We live in a time where magic is being breathed into the world, all around us, every day. Hand-held computers (that we still insist on calling ‘phones) are the magic wands with which this power may be conjured.
I am thrilled, thanks to Story City, to have been given the opportunity to embellish the streets of Grange with a little magic of my own: conspiracies and ghost-trains are finally coming to life on the very streets where I first imagined them.
* Other game books are available.
There: the ground moved. Grey mud shifted and a tiny pair of black eyes appeared amidst the slop. Edgar scooped up the crab, ignoring the ineffectual protestations of its claws and placed it into a hessian sack.
A few steps away, the sea blustered and sprayed foam against the rocks. Edgar bowed his head, his eyes protected from the brine by the low ridge of his brow and his long, unwashed curls of black hair. He examined the mud, seeking more crabs.
In the sack, some of the crabs struggled against the coarse cloth. Others fell docile as soon as they descended into that suffocating darkness. Pincers and shell struck out at each other, spiked legs were broken in the desperation for escape.
But the crabs could not escape any more than Edgar could leave this beach. Walls of bleak, grey rock rose as far as the eye could see; black pebble beaches and winding, labyrinthine paths of ashen sand. And, of course, the vast grey sea that gushed back and forth from here to the very ends of the earth.
Edgar went on scooping crabs out of the primordial sludge in which they lay—not asleep, not awake, simply waiting. Sometimes a sharp edge of shell would prick his skin, but Edgar’s skin had grown rough and he did not bleed. When the sack was full he slung it across one broad shoulder and made his way home, towards the darkly folding cliffs.
Microbeads and rare seaweeds,
A mix, a charm, a potion,
And other things, nobody needs,
Where did they get the notion?
It tightens, lightens, restores, revives,
It’s based on spells from ancient tribes,
With sap leeched from an ancient tree,
A better you, a better me.
Elixir of eternal youth,
Crushed powder from a tiger’s tooth,
No signs of scientific proof,
What’s that? Your skin is feeling loose?
A native bloom now facing doom,
Another, another… gone,
Eventually the world reclaims,
All that we started from.
And from all that we started from,
From this to that, what we’ve become,
Smooth skin, soft whispers, bottled scents,
Not thinking of the consequence.
Such beauty comes at no small cost,
And already so much have we lost,
Yet the future is still ours to choose,
Let us hope it’s not squeezed from a tube.